Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Da 5 Bloods, or: Bros Before Bars of Gold

The Vietnam War supposedly marked the end of an era for the United States–so, too, did the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Yet the effects of that time in history continue to hold sway over the events of the present, none more clearly than in the lives of Black Vietnam War veterans. It wouldn’t be Spike Lee if this week’s film didn’t examine the events of the past in the context of the present day in an effort to unravel the interconnectedness of white supremacy, violence, greed, and imperialism.

The Film:

Da 5 Bloods

The Premise:

Decades after serving in the Vietnam War, four veterans return to the Vietnamese countryside to retrieve the remains of their fallen leader…and a secret fortune in gold bars.

The Ramble:

Though 45 years have passed since US troops left Vietnam, the war continues to loom large in the lives of the remaining 4 Bloods of our film’s title. Returning to Vietnam to recover the remains of their lost leader, the heroic Stormin’ Norman, the 4 veterans anticipate a much less dangerous trip this time around. But there are more dramatic secrets and stunning betrayals here than on daytime TV, making this reunion–and film–an adventure story; admittedly, an adventure story that maybe could have cut out one or two interludes and still remained satisfying.

The main concern of the Bloods is to bring Norman’s body home; however, who’s to say they can’t multi-task? During their final mission together, the 5 Bloods opted to hide a chest full of gold they were instructed to return to the US government. Under Norman’s guidance, though, the 5 Bloods decided to claim it was lost to North Vietnam forces with the intention of returning to take back the gold as a form of reparations. Before they could return, the area was napalmed–and now that a landslide has uncovered the plane marking the spot, retrieving the gold may just be in reach.

Who exactly is part of the crew? Otis is a compassionate former combat medic who is in for a big surprise; when he pays a visit to his ex Tiên, Otis learns that he is the father of her grown daughter. Through Tiên, Otis is able to arrange a meeting with Desroche, a Frenchman who, despite being shady as shit, may offer the only option for the Bloods to get their gold out of the country.

In contrast, Paul is a loyal Trump supporter (complete with MAGA hat) with anger issues exacerbated by PTSD. Having watched the legendary Stormin’ Norman die, Paul carries a great deal of guilt, and is haunted by visions of Norman at night.

Eddie is an upbeat car salesman who has made a small fortune with his business savvy. And Melvin is just kind of there to be the 5th blood? I’m going to be honest–the character development for these two is somewhat lacking.

Our modern day 5th Blood is a surprise to the others; upon hearing of Paul’s plans to return to Vietnam, his son David arrives to stop his father from doing anything too outlandish. Because of Paul’s PTSD and the early death of his wife, his relationship with David is tortured, to say the least.

As the group treks through the Vietnamese countryside, they reminisce about Stormin’ Norman’s heroism as a leader, knowledge of untold Black history, and strategic brilliance in keeping the Bloods alive. At a bar, David meets a woman he mistakes for American, but turns out to be Frenchwoman Hedy. Hedy is the founder of a non-profit, LAMB: Love Against Mines and Bombs. So she essentially spends her days trekking through the country, defusing landmines to atone for all of her family’s criminal behavior and war profiteering in Vietnam. There is chemistry between the two, but they go their separate ways…for now.

Things are rolling along fine until the Bloods do manage to accomplish their mission and find Norman’s remains, along with the gold. Much debate begins about Norman’s intentions for the gold–is it acceptable for each of the Bloods to hold onto his share or should the money be donated to charitable causes?

All of this becomes of secondary concern when the Bloods find themselves in a literal minefield, the LAMB volunteers witness more than they should, and a double cross that shouldn’t surprise you at all leaves the Bloods fighting for their lives. And there’s still about an hour left!

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The film is framed by words from Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr, both of whom reflect on the injustices faced by Black Americans who served in Vietnam. There’s a clear parallel to the unjust war perpetrated against the Vietnamese people from the 1950s-1970s with the persecution of African-Americans in the US then and now. It couldn’t be a more timely message from Spike Lee, who uses historical images and footage for dramatic effect and, in one humorous instance, points out that one Black guy who appears in Trump rally footage to “prove” that the Black community supports the man Lee often refers to as Agent Orange.

I enjoyed this film a lot, but, to be honest, the story is a bit flimsy. Unpacking the events of the past and the evolution of the relationships between the 5 Bloods is fascinating, but things get a bit messy and confusing with the plots involving Otis’s daughter, the LAMB crew, and the maneuvers of Desroche. Not to mention that, at 2 1/2 hours, it’s difficult to imagine there isn’t something that could have been cut.

As other reviews have highlighted, Delroy Lindo does phenomenal work here. Paul often treats even his friends and son terribly, but he uncovers enough of the character’s trauma for us to sympathize. And when he’s not sympathetic, he’s still compelling and so watchable, and gets some of the most Spike Lee-esque lines and moments.

In contrast, I found the only 3 named female characters to be pretty unremarkable. I expected at least one of them to be involved in underhanded schemes, but all were much too naive and one-dimensional for that. I get that David and Hedy were meant to have a connection, but I don’t know if I’d be quite as wiling to forgive and forget in her shoes (even though Jonathan Majors is keeping those arms in good shape and most likely about to be in all of the roles). The same is true for Tiên and her daughter–it feels like their only purpose is to embrace Otis with open arms, but I think some nuances would exist there, and the opportunity to reflect those is missed.

One of the most fascinating approaches of this film is the avoidance of using younger actors or any sort of aging effects during flashback scenes–all 5 of the Bloods appear the same in both present and past scenes. This works for me as a reminder that the story is about the present as much, or perhaps more than, the past. It also serves to recognize that memories are brought forth in the context of the present; they don’t stay the same across time, but are altered by time and our experiences.

Perhaps not a new favorite, but a compelling story well told.

Would my blog wife step on a mine for this one or is she only in it for the gold bars? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Watermelon Woman, or: the City of Sisterly Love

I’m incredibly happy to report we’ve gotten around to this week’s pick, which has been on my watchlist for a while and depicts the lives of black lesbians from a contemporary and historical perspective. All of this through the lens of a fake documentary, rows and rows of video store VHS tapes, and as many denim overalls as you can handle. There’s nothing else quite like this week’s film, The Watermelon Woman.

The Film:

The Watermelon Woman

The Premise:

While creating a documentary dedicated to the life of a black actress credited as “The Watermelon Woman,” Cheryl navigates her own identity as a black lesbian in 1990s Philadelphia.

The Ramble:

Aspiring filmmaker Cheryl has made movies her life–in addition to working in a video rental store with her bff Tamara, the two record videos for fancy weddings across the greater Philly area. But Cheryl’s true passion is watching films of the 1930s and ’40s starring black women, particularly the so-called Watermelon Woman. Though she has no information about the actress’ real name or any other biographical details, Cheryl is nevertheless determined to uncover the woman’s identity and highlight her life in the form of a documentary.

Two black women work behind the checkout desk at a video rental store.

Meanwhile, Cheryl has the interference of her friend Tamara to contend with; both are lesbians, but the expression of their sexuality is unique to each woman. Tamara is constantly checking out other black women and trying to set up Cheryl with a date. Cheryl doesn’t particularly appreciate the effort, and the one time she agrees to a double date with Tamara, it makes for an awkward evening with an overly dramatic woman who has an unfortunately inflated opinion of her own musical talent.

Ever focused on the Watermelon Woman, Cheryl tracks down a series of interview subjects to fill in the details. A friend of her mother’s unexpectedly provides insight, recognizing the woman not from the black-owned theaters she frequented back in the day, but from performances at gay clubs. Through man-on-the-street interviews and conversations with experts, Cheryl records forgotten stories of black history as well as the spirit of present day (okay, mid-90s) Philadelphia. She eventually ends up in the library and the archives of an organization known as the Center for Lesbian Information and Technology (aka CLIT). Sadly, the members of the library profession are less than helpful representatives of the field.

A black woman and white woman sit together, embracing.

Cheryl’s journey to resurface the details of the Watermelon Woman’s life, real name Fae Richards, leads to the discovery of an interracial relationship between the actress and white director Martha Page. Was it really possible for a director responsible for depiction of her lover as a stereotypical mammy to treat Fae with love and respect? Connecting historical events to the present, Cheryl finds herself in a relationship with a white woman, Diana. Even in ’90s Philadelphia, a romance between a black woman and white woman is fraught; Tamara decidedly disapproves, and the number of black boyfriends in Diana’s past is worrying.

In the middle of a video store, a black woman talks to a white woman who is holding several VHS tapes.

As Cheryl continues her investigation into Fae’s life, a book is published (most likely by a white dude) that confirms some of the details surrounding her relationship with Martha. However, Martha’s own sister, as well as film and cultural critics continue to deny the possibility of their romance. Finally getting into contact with a woman who was Fae’s partner later in life, it seems the puzzle pieces are falling into place at last. Will the pieces align as Cheryl expects–either in her documentary or in her own personal life?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Perhaps best known as one of the only features directed by a black lesbian, The Watermelon Woman also happens to be a fascinating look into the forgotten (or intentionally erased) history of black LGBTQ women. Though Fae is a fictional character, she stands in for the lives of real women whose lives aren’t considered noteworthy as they defy mainstream narratives. The use of archival images and photos, as well as home movies, lends Fae’s story a poignancy that, as viewers, makes us question how many other stories have been neglected, buried, or removed altogether?

Dunye is observant of contemporary culture too, celebrating the lively streets of Philadelphia without glossing over truths about race and the queer community that reveal the City of Brotherly Love to be less than welcoming. Even in this film about filmmaking, the character of Cheryl is harassed by the police. There’s a lot to unpack in this scene, but currently the pervasiveness and the longevity of the problem of police aggression and suspicion stands out most.

There’s also a nuance to the way black lesbian experiences are depicted here–both Cheryl and Tamara express and act on their sexuality in very different ways. In fact, this becomes a source of conflict for the two friends, who I like to imagine will work things out. Tamara gets my favorite line of the whole film when she describes Philly as “the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”

On a side note, this made me feel a sense of loss for video stores. Not for any experiences I had as a customer (and all of their excessive fucking fines), but for the number of film nerds they spawned and supported. I wonder where Cheryl’s character would have worked if the film had been made today; I’m guessing in a place where it would have been more difficult to meet ladies impressed with her film knowledge.

Would my blog wife show this film some affection or give it about as much attention as an extremely heteronormative wedding video? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

13th, or: Abolish the Police, Abolish Prisons

It’s maybe not terribly surprising that, as a middle-class white woman, I haven’t had many encounters with the police. Legitimately, the story that springs to mind most clearly is the time I had stopped after dark in a library parking lot with a friend after a hayride was closed (I recognize that this story is white AF). Lost, we pulled into the lot to regroup, and a police officer drove up…to ask if we were having car trouble.

There’s a reason my experience with law enforcement is completely different from the experiences of many people of color; comedian Amber Ruffin recently shared several of her encounters. And it’s much more intentional, insidious, and downright racist than you may realize (even knowing that the way the US handles crime or perceived crime is pretty fucking racist). Ava DuVernay’s modern classic documentary is this week’s film, and it outlines how the problem of mass incarceration grew to become a widely accepted form of slavery today.

The Film:


The Premise:

Combining archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars, director Ava DuVernay’s examination of the U.S. prison system looks at how the country’s history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America.

The Ramble:

In a world where the prison population has skyrocketed from a bit over 350,000 to 2.3 million in less than 50 years, this documentary critically analyzes how and why the racist system of mass incarceration evolved in the United States.

As history professor Kevin Gannon reminds us, “History is not just stuff that happens by accident,” and the problem of mass incarceration is very much included, as the States represents approximately 5% of the world’s population yet houses 25% of the world’s prisoners.

The particular phrase making the incarceration of a disproportionate number of black people possible comes from a surprising place: the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. Key is the exception allowing the nation to deny freedom as punishment for a crime…and a system that frames free blacks as dangerous criminals who need to be locked away from the rest of society develops almost immediately following the Civil War.

Writer and activist Michelle Alexander sits for an interview
Michelle Alexander

While the racism of the KKK and Jim Crow segregation has its roots in the establishment of slavery in the States in 1619, the film The Birth of a Nation served as a spark igniting racist violence in the early 20th century. This film spawned many of our modern conceptions of the KKK, including cross burning and the narrative of the South as a place of noble martyrs. In addition to inspiring violence, the film was incredibly effective in communicating an idea that would shape policies leading to mass incarceration: that of the black man as a threat to white women.

As Jim Crow and segregation replaced lynchings as the primary method of inflicting racist violence on the black community, the Civil Rights movement gained momentum. Conveniently for racists, crime also happened to be on the rise at the time, thus creating an opportunity to spin the narrative that there was a relationship between civil rights, the black community, and violent lawbreaking.

Poet and activist Malkia Cyril sits for an interview
Malkia Cyril

Beginning with Nixon, politicians in the States felt empowered to promote law and order, aggressively pursuing criminal behavior, more often than not using “crime” to stand in for “race.” By framing the issue of crime around the chaos of major urban areas, the Republican party began to sway poor and working-class people to their way of thinking.

Escalating law and order policies, Reagan’s approach to the so-called War on Drugs led to even greater rates of incarceration in black and Latinx communities. The arbitrary distinction between crack and cocaine, along with mandatory sentencing, led to huge disparities in convictions between black and white people charged with possession.

During this time, the incredibly problematic phrase “super predator” emerges to describe criminals–very often, people of color. George H.W. Bush very likely won the presidency based on exploiting white fears surrounding one such individual who committed murder while out on a weekend prison pass.

Protestors carry signs and march in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin

But don’t worry if all of this seems like an unfair attack on conservatives (if you do, though, IDK what you expect from this blog): there are plenty of shameful policies and decisions the Democrats can take credit for. Bill Clinton really leaned into the image of being tough on crime, providing significantly greater funding to the police and incentivizing drug arrests, effectively building the modern infrastructure of the US police.

This leads us to the present, in which ALEC, a lobbying group, is responsible for a disturbing number of Republican bills related to crime and mass incarceration. One of the largest supporters of ALEC was a private prison corporation (CCA), which had an interest in keeping prisons full.

Activist and writer Bryan Stevenson sits for an interview
Bryan Stevenson

And this is really just the tip of the iceberg here. As an arrested person, you are under immense pressure to accept a plea deal rather than go to trial; as a result, 97% of incarcerated people never had a trial. In prison, it’s very possible you will work for abysmally low wages making products for many different private corporations. And, in some states, if you are convicted of a felony, you permanently lose the right to vote.

Suffice it to say, the president (affectionately known to many as Agent Orange) has done nothing but make the situation worse, frequently inciting violence in his speech and denying the conspicuous presence of racism in virtually every sector of society. One of our featured commentators puts our current reality in stark terms: there are more black people incarcerated today than who were enslaved in the States in the 1850s.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Just watch the film, won’t you? It’s streaming for free on YouTube (at least in the States), and contextualizes the issue of mass incarceration much more effectively than I do on this blog. The timing couldn’t be better for white people in particular to understand why protesters responding to police violence are so angry and why the black community is so tired of waiting for the rights they’ve been promised for generations.

With insight from Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Angela Davis, Van Jones, and many other thinkers and activists (including those formerly incarcerated), the expert analysis comes from historical, cultural, contemporary, and personal experiences. The impact of mass incarceration is revealed in stark numbers, but also through stories of individuals and communities whose lives have been irrevocably changed or ended as a result.

To learn more, I highly recommend Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and the podcast Ear Hustle, recorded (in non-pandemic times) inside San Quentin State Prison.

Would my blog wife abolish this one like it’s the U.S. prison system or travel back in time to award it the 2016 Oscar? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

What Happened, Miss Simone? or: Walking with Grace

We could be doing better to learn more about black history and activism to amplify the work of black folks and contribute to dismantling white supremacy. This month, we’ll be highlighting some of the lives and experiences of black people on the Blog Collab–and, going forward, being more intentional about the films, directors, and messages we give our time and attention. We’re kicking off the month with an absolute legend of music and black advocacy, Nina Simone.

The Film:

What Happened, Miss Simone?

The Premise:

The story of Nina Simone’s success, jeopardized by abuse, mental illness, and both public and industrial responses to her Civil Rights activism.

The Ramble:

“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life.”

Nina Simone expressed her thoughts on freedom over 50 years ago, and they still ring all too real. Though she gained fame as one of the most talented jazz and blues performers ever, Simone was truly fired up by Civil Rights activism while battling abuse, mental illness, and rejection by the music industry. Our film gives us some insight into the complexity of Simone’s public and private lives.

Nina Simone, a young black woman, sings and plays piano in a dimly lit room with several people watching her performance.

Playing piano in church from a young age, Simone grew to believe she would be the first black woman to receive recognition for playing classical piano. When two white women noticed Simone’s talent, she gained the lessons and sponsorship to pursue this dream. However, at the same time, Simone grew lonely, belonging in neither the black neighborhood where she lived, nor the white neighborhood where she spent much of her time practicing.

After studying piano at Juilliard for a short time, Simone expected to continue her studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, but she was denied admission, very likely due to her race. Out of money to continue her education, Simone had no choice but to work in order to contribute to the rest of her family, who had relocated to be with her in Philly. Working in a club in Atlantic City and playing jazz her mother would never approve of, the girl born Eunice Waymon became the woman known as Nina Simone.

Nina Simone sits, one leg crossed over the other, smoking a cigarette, while she has a conversation with a couple of figures who are offscreen.

With her unique way of playing classically inspired jazz and singing with deep emotion, it isn’t long before Nina Simone records her first album, Little Girl Blue. To her surprise, her cover of “I Loves You, Porgy” is an instant hit. Soon after, Simone meets Andy Stroud, the man who will become her husband and manager.

After the birth of her daughter, Simone’s career begins to really take off. She plays Carnegie Hall, though in her mind isn’t playing music that measures up to the classical piano she grew up performing. Despite her success, it’s at this point that those around her notice the toll constant work takes on Simone’s well-being. Husband Andy is psychologically and physically abusive, spending a good deal of time in his managerial role encouraging her to always keep working. Simone is on several medications to deal with her depression and trouble sleeping, and suffers from drastic mood swings. At the heart of all of her work, there seems to be nothing; in spite of her achievements, Simone is still looking for meaning.

Nina Simone smiles at the young child (her daughter) she is holding, seated next to her husband.

Simone begins to find this meaning in activism. After the Birmingham church bombing that kills four young girls, Simone releases the controversial song “Mississippi Goddam.” Radios won’t play it as it’s too indecent because of the swearing…but, you know, white supremacist murder of black children is fine. Simone connects with the Civil Rights movement, finding purpose in fighting for the rights of black Americans. She connects with playwright Lorraine Hansberry in particular, and tells Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his face that she’s not nonviolent.

Fully committed to Civil Rights, Simone begins playing exclusively political songs. While she finds support in the movement, she gets none from her husband, who resents that she prioritizes politics over her (and his) career. Experiencing suicidal thoughts and seemingly having breakdowns at several times, the assassination of MLK, Jr. drives Simone from the States to Liberia. This time in her life seems to be a turning point as she feels happy in Liberia, but her relationship with her daughter suffers as Simone’s abusive behavior drives her away.

Nina Simone in later years, performing onstage while seated at the piano. She looks serious and focused.

With her finances in trouble, Simone jumps to Switzerland and then France to perform in clubs again. On the verge of a breakdown, several of Simone’s friends help her find a place to live and receive treatment for newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. But is that enough to help the woman who is, in the words of Qubilah Shabazz, African royalty? “How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?” she asks.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m really grateful this film exists and gives us some insight to Nina Simone’s brilliance. I knew she didn’t have a happy life before diving in, but I wasn’t prepared for all of the challenges she faced, as a performer, activist, and black woman. It’s impossible not to admire her courage as a Civil Rights activist during a time when much of white America dismissed or outright rejected its message. Her cultural and social influence is difficult to overstate as she looms so large in modern history.

To be honest, I was hoping for a bit more insight into Simone’s interiority than was presented in the film. Perhaps this is down to her struggles with mental illness and her own image–in one interview, Simone reveals that she believes the Civil Rights movement has failed, seeming to imply that she could have done more. I suppose what my brain wants is to see evidence of some peace for Miss Simone, but we can’t know if that was one of her many accomplishments, or even one she wanted.

Would my blog wife give this one a standing ovation or be that one person in the audience Miss Simone yells at to sit down? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Lovebirds, or: Love Lyfts Us up Where We Belong

This year, month, week, take your pick–none of these have turned out the way most of us have anticipated. That could be one reason our good intentions of sticking to the theme of mental health in May has failed so miserably, though I’m not mad about it. We’ve experienced quite a few films that I’ll think about for a long time during the month…will this week’s pick be one of them?

The Film:

The Lovebirds

The Premise:

Immediately after breaking up, a couple implicated in murder must work together to clear their names.

The Ramble:

Leilani and Jibran connect instantly when they meet at a party, spending all night and much of the next day together. Four years later, the magic is not only long gone, and it may have never been there in the first place. The two seem utterly incompatible at this point–Leilani a chronic social media addict who is convinced the two could totally win The Amazing Race, Jibran a skeptical documentary filmmaker who criticizes virtually everything and constantly corrects Leilani on the minutest details.

A man and woman stand in an alley, gesticulating as they speak to 2 people not seen onscreen.

Driving to a party one evening, Leilani and Jibran finally decide to break up and end their shared misery. But as soon as they’ve uttered the words, a bicyclist suddenly appears, and Jibran accidentally hits the man. Though L&J offer to help the man and call an ambulance, the bicyclist appears afraid and is cycling again shortly thereafter. Before the couple has a chance to process what has happened, a mustachioed man claiming to be a police officer takes the driver’s seat and chases the bicyclist down. Things take a much darker turn when the vehicle catches up with the cyclist, repeatedly running the man over until he dies.

A blonde man with a moustache drives a car with a cracked windshield, as the passengers look on in fear.

As soon as he’s arrived, the driver disappears, leaving Leilani and Jibran the prime murder suspects. Regrouping at a diner, the two exes decide their story is too strange for the police to ever believe. Now in possession of the deceased’s phone, Leilani and Jibran vow to solve the murder in order to clear their names. Their first clue? A Google Calendar event that evening with Edie at a place ominously named The Dragon’s Den.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Leilani and Jibran are in way over their heads; after approaching Edie, they’re tied up in a barn and threatened with hot bacon grease and kicks from a horse. Edie and her congressman husband are determined to get their hands on incriminating photos that the deceased bicyclist apparently had. When Leilani and Jibran escape, their new goal is to find the photos at the bicyclist’s home–after a quick change of clothes at a local pharmacy.

Outside of a store at night, a woman in a unicorn hoodie stands next to a man wearing a shiny gold jacket.

Needless to say, Leilani and Jibran’s attempts to break into the bicyclist’s apartment aren’t immediately successful. To make matters worse, it turns out the apartment is full of frat bros who worked for the man but have no more answers than our leading couple. Either way, the return of Moustache, the unhinged murderer from before, spells trouble for the bros and a narrow escape for Leilani and Jibran–though they do manage to get a hold of the compromising photos.

The photos lead Leilani and Jibran to a sort of Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy, into police custody, and finally out of trouble. …Until, on the way home, the two recognize their driver’s mustachioed face. [cue dramatic music]

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Honestly, the only good elements of this film are Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani; both are as entertaining as ever. Besides that…eh, it’s fine.

The plot is meant to be absurdly farcical, but it never really gets to a level that’s funny. I don’t remember any of the jokes besides the gratuitous karaoke moment car singalong, and that’s not a great sign.

I admit the biggest problem for me are current events surrounding police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among so many others), which have no direct connection to the creation of the film itself. Regardless, some of the humor just didn’t land as intended because of the context in which it was released. It’s difficult to watch characters worry about being disbelieved or even assaulted by the police in lines that are meant to be funny. And the silly wrap-up in which of course the police didn’t suspect you in a crime you clearly didn’t commit, innocent bystanders/people of color lolz…it’s disturbing, to be honest. Perhaps with a more satirical edge, this film could pull off the humor better; however, it’s hard to imagine laughing at these ideas, especially at this moment. It’s just much too real.

Would my blog wife hop into a Lyft with this one or end the trip early with not even a 1-star review? Read her film review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Art of Self-Defense, or: Typing This Is Difficult with My Weak Woman Fingers

You could argue that toxic masculinity inevitably has adverse effects on mental health (which it does). Otherwise, this week’s film serves as a final reminder that we have utterly failed to stick to our theme during this month of highlighting mental health. I can live with this, especially as I feel this month’s theme on the Collab was very good for my mental health, personally.

The Film:

The Art of Self-Defense

The Premise:

After he is the victim of a violent attack, mild-mannered Casey decides to embrace the masculine art of karate in a quest to no longer live in fear.

The Ramble:

*Spoilers follow*

Casey Davies is the sort of person who awkwardly defends his boss to his dude bro coworkers and apologizes profusely to his dog (but, honestly, you might be a sociopath if you don’t). An accountant who keeps to himself and rejects the swagger of toxic masculinity, Casey is nonetheless intrigued by the fearless confidence of his rather mediocre coworkers.

A man stands in an office kitchen, speaking to another man who is seated.

One night, after Casey is attacked by a motorcycle gang, his life changes in unexpected ways. The violence of the assault shakes Casey to his core, and it no longer feels enough to quietly keep to himself and hope for the best. Uninterested in returning to work and too terrified to even go outside after dark, Casey decides to buy a handgun for self-defense, though the mandatory waiting period means several days must pass for him to buy a firearm.

In the mean time, Casey strolls past a karate dōjō and wanders inside, drawn to the discipline, power, and strength of the practice. As the Sensei puts it, karate is forming words with your fists and feet–a concept that appeals to the traumatized Casey immensely.

A man in a black karate uniform, a karategi, poses with one fist extended.

Though karate requires rigorous and humbling training to earn even the lowest ranking of a yellow belt, Casey fully embraces his role as a student. He no longer feels a gun is needed as karate will teach him the skill of punching with the feet and kicking with his hands (whatever the fuck that means). Besides, the 11th rule of the dōjō is that guns are for the weak; considering that the karate master and founder of the dōjō was killed in a suspicious gun accident while hiking, this rule is taken quite seriously.

When Casey earns the yellow belt, it becomes his entire identity as he buys only yellow foods and orders a custom yellow belt so he can feel the confidence of his achievement always. However, even as he celebrates his accomplishments, Casey begins to notice the flaws in the hierarchy Sensei controls: female instructor Anna will seemingly never earn a black belt despite her skills, and blue belt Henry seems destined to stay at this level eternally.

A woman wearing a white gi looks fiercely at a man facing her.

Still, Casey is determined to master karate and become the best, most hypermasculine version of himself possible. In order to do so, Sensei advises Casey to hold onto the yellow belt even though it doesn’t feel earned, start listening to the toughest music (metal), stop coddling his pet dachshund, and take up the hobby of learning German instead of French.

By following Sensei’s lead, Casey gains an air of authority based on fear rather than respect. He even earns a spot at the coveted night class, widely understood as the hardcore version of the day class. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s at the legendary night class that things take a dark turn: arms are broken, teeth knocked out, and Anna beats new black belt Thomas within an inch of his life. During the class cooldown, Casey can no longer deny how sexist the dōjō is, as he discovers the women’s changing room is basically a utility closet with a few towels thrown in. Worse, as the newbie, he must suffer the supposedly horrible indignity of Anna’s weak woman hands massaging him.

A man in black karategi stands in the middle of a mat, speaking to karate students lined up in a row facing him.

Though Sensei’s idiotic words of wisdom have covered his true intentions well to this point, it becomes clear that he’s a much more sinister figure. Claiming to have located the leader of the motorcycle gang responsible for the attack on Casey, Sensei encourages him to beat up the man. Casey does fight the man and seriously injures him, which Sensei records on film. Suspiciously, Casey returns home to find his dog has been attacked, suffering from what appears to be a punch from a foot.

After confronting Sensei, Casey realizes his instructor has the upper hand with the recording of his student violently attacking a man without provocation. Sensei asks Casey to join him for an unspecified errand, which of course ends up being joining his motorcycle gang to beat up a hapless victim that night. It’s Casey’s job to find the perfect target; what could possibly go wrong?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ooooooooh, where to begin? I’m still puzzling over this one, which succeeds in being very funny, extremely dark, and quite insightful into the way toxic masculinity works.

Initially, it’s rather easy to dismiss Sensei as idiotically spouting nonsense because he may not be quite as insightful as he believes. However, as the film shifts into darker territory, it’s clear that the nonsense is intentional, accurately reflecting his warped understanding of the world. It doesn’t come as a shock that Sensei is in much greater control than any of his students realize as they fail to process that, in addition to judging which of his students are inherently worthwhile, he has created the entire system of values itself. Of course establishing the world as a violent and dangerous place, then positioning yourself as the teacher who can help people become tough enough to survive it will prove an effective strategy. It’s more or less the first lesson of Intro to Cult Leadership.

But, to the observer, the unbreakable rules of toxic masculinity are quickly unraveled. Sensei discusses how Anna, as a woman, is inherently unsuited to karate, yet her supposedly natural maternal instinct makes her the best instructor for the children’s classes. Less than 200 years ago, most teachers were men, so perhaps the idea that a specific gender makes anyone more or less suited to a certain job is nonsense. And Sensei’s insistence that Anna isn’t the right candidate for a black belt shifts the blame to her, rather than exploring the ways the system has been set up to undermine her accomplishments (to say nothing of his own personal bias). Speaking of Anna, there is absolutely no romantic story line with her, praise the lord. It’s refreshing that, as the only female character, Anna is decidedly not there as a love interest.

The ending itself is somehow both very disturbing and quite heartwarming. Ultimately, Casey does have to speak the language of toxic masculinity to defeat it–but will he embrace it as a belief system or use it as a tool for a different purpose?

Would my blog wife bow respectfully to this one or aim a foot punch and fist kick its way? Find out in her review here!

Film Reviews, TV Reviews

The Great…est of Period Drama Comedy

Lately, binge watching The Great has been giving me life. It’s a bit of a roller coaster as it tells the heavily fictionalized story of Catherine the Great’s rise to power by staging a coup only a few months into her husband’s reign (that part is true!). All of the things I love about a period drama are here: witty dialogue, petty schemes, and incredible costumes and scenery. Don’t get me wrong, though–the humor is pitch black and cynical AF, and there are some pretty disturbing murders, tortures, and the like.

Having consumed the series in its entirety (unless season 2 is in the cards?!), I’m having a bit of a meltdown about what to do with my life next. The time may be ripe to reexamine the rather niche comedy/period drama genre. Here are some suggestions in case you also promised to pace yourself on your latest TV series only to be confronted with your own deceit less than a week later.

Header image from Twitter account @TheGreatHulu


Two woman stand side by side in glamorous dresses, looking directly at the camera.
Image copyright by BBC

Cold Comfort Farm

Based on a parody of the romantic pastoral novel, there is nothing subtle about this film adaptation, which features a stellar cast. In one of her first roles, Kate Beckinsale plays Flora Poste, a penniless young woman who goes to live with little known relatives in the English countryside. Absolutely every character is an over-the-top exaggeration, from Ian McKellen’s fire-and-brimstone preacher to Joanna Lumley’s glamorous socialite and Sheila Burrell’s embittered family matriarch who infamously “saw something nasty in the woodshed” long ago.

An Ideal Husband

Rupert Everett as the extremely Wilde-like Lord Goring is perfect casting. Actually, you can’t fault any of the cast here, which includes Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, and Julianne Moore. When a former lover arrives in town with a blackmail scheme that could ruin Lord Chiltern’s political career, it’s up to bff Goring to cleverly solve the problem, all while dodging marriages left and right. On reflection, this is a bit like a Jeeves and Wooster adventure, except Goring fills in for both characters, throwing in some cheerfully subversive wit for good measure.

Two women stand in a courtyard wearing Regency coats and hats.
Image by Ross McDonnell

Love and Friendship

Playing almost the polar opposite of her Cold Comfort Farm character, Kate Beckinsale brings the period drama charm again as the scheming social climber Lady Susan. A fairly young widow, Lady Susan seeks a wealthy husband for herself, as well as one for her daughter, and is perfectly fine with scandalizing all of polite society with her meddling. The thinly veiled insults and outraged indignation are incredibly entertaining. As an aside, I cannot wait to watch the new adaptation of Emma (actually, as a cheapskate, I can..but I’m not happy about it)!

Return of the Hero

A French language film for the list! Not going to lie, I tuned in mostly for Mélanie Laurent, but you can’t fault Jean Dujardin here either. Though Captain Neuville promises he will write to his fiancée every day when he goes off to war, it’s pretty clear to her sister Elisabeth that this is not going to happen. Recognizing what a tool the captain is, Elisabeth writes letters to her sister on his behalf, inventing all manner of heroic deeds he’s pulled off. This plan backfires terribly when, against all odds, Capt. Neuville survives the war and returns home, fully embraced by the family. Only Elisabeth knows what a fraud the captain is, but telling the truth will expose her own deception in this silly comedy.

A woman clasps a necklace behind a man's neck while he is shirtless and wearing heavy face makeup.
Image copyright 2004 by Lions Gate Films

Stage Beauty

Difficult as it is to imagine, our film takes place at a time when it was widely accepted that only men should appear on stage, even in female roles, and the idea of a woman acting was scandalous. As the most renowned actor playing female roles in Restoration-era England, Ned Kynaston’s star is falling just as Margaret Hughes rises. This is a bit of a period drama twist on A Star Is Born, except it’s quite funny and not a huge bummer (though I did quite like the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper/Sam Elliott’s moustache version).

Twelfth Night

Ah, the fluidity of gender roles: a classic Shakespearean theme. After a shipwreck leaves Viola stranded, her brother presumed dead, she adopts a man’s disguise to make her way in the local court. Though Imogen Stubbs stars, of course it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as Olivia, the clueless romantic in love with a disguised Viola; but, like any good period drama, the entire cast is excellent. Throw in more love triangles than you can shake a stick at, and you’ve got the heart and soul of a true Shakespearean comedy onscreen.


American Princess

This one is cheating as it’s not a period drama; rather, it’s set rather uniquely at a modern-day Renaissance Faire. However, the parallels between time periods, the gorgeous costumes, and the interesting look at the hierarchy of the Ren Fair circuit should scratch the period drama itch for you–just be prepared for a lot of very Shakespearean humor (read: filthy). Word of caution: this was cancelled after only one season (so don’t get too attached), but things are wrapped up in a way that’s satisfying enough that it won’t leave you hanging.

A man wearing a crown smiles at the woman seated next to him, who is holding a bearded dragon.
The only relationship that matters to me in the series is the one between King Richard and lizard/dragon in disguise Tad Cooper; image copyright by ABC Studios.


I’m honestly never going to get over the years of my life wasted caring about Once Upon a Time, aka the Disney Channel happy hour. But the couple of Galavant seasons we got during the show’s mid-season break almost make it all worth it. At once a sort of tribute to Monty Python and a parody of all things Disney, the comedy musical is ridiculously fun to watch (and the number of incredible cameos is unreal). With songs about poisoning the nobility, burning down villages with the help of a pet lizard (who’s secretly a dragon, of course), and how stupid feelings are, this seems like a distant cousin of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Jeeves and Wooster

This show never fails to make me laugh. I can’t imagine anyone more suited to the titular roles than Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie; their dynamic is so perfect in this series. As the painfully clueless Bertie Wooster stumbles into tricky situations (often where he ends up inadvertently engaged to a series of high society ladies), his valet Jeeves always manages to wrap things up neatly. One of my favorite episodes involves a scheme to steal an antique cow creamer, which could yield multiple broken engagements (and the wrath of the Nazi-esque Black Shorts) should it fail.

Six women dressed in Regency costume stand in a row with a man dressed in a soldier's uniform of the era.
Image copyright by Mammoth Screen

Lost in Austen

True confession: I’m not the biggest Austen fan, but I love an adaptation that underscores the social commentary and biting wit rather than romance. The story follows Amanda Price, a Londoner who magically switches places with Lizzie Bennett of Pride & Prejudice, which is clearly going to include a romantic plot here. Yet the unexpected twists and turns, fish out of water comedy, and backhanded compliments make for an amusing watch. In no other Austen adaptation will characters speak so openly about lesbians, reenacting the famous Darcy in the lake scene, or waxing pubic hair.

Vanity Fair

To be honest, I don’t think this adaptation is really what William Thackeray had in mind, but IDGAF. It’s virtually impossible not to like and even root for the incredibly manipulative Becky Sharp; through this interpretation of the novel, Becky is a survivor responding to narrowly defined morality, class structures, and gender roles. Olivia Cooke is such a delight to watch in this role, and the odd decision to have Michael Palin as Thackeray interjecting wry commentary while on a carousel just works for me.

A middle-aged man with a stethoscope and notebook stands next to a young man with identical accessories.
Image copyright 2012 by Big Talk Productions

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

Finally, one that’s set in Russia! Pitch black humor, some truly gruesome medical procedures on camera, and a familiar face (Adam Godley, the power-hungry Patriarch in The Great), this is perhaps the closest series to matching The Great in tone. No one is especially likeable, nor half as clever as they believe, but it’s all so satisfyingly dark. Plus Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe having deeply cynical conversations with each other as the younger and older versions of the protagonist is so fun to watch.

Honorable mentions too obvious to bring up previously

Clearly, The Favourite, written by The Great writer/creator Tony McNamara. Managing to balance the absurdity of the characters with their vulnerability, this film is so entertaining even as it’s quite heartbreaking (and absolutely packed with social and political commentary).

Additionally, any number of films by Mel Brooks or the Monty Python crew, as well as the entire run of Blackadder. I feel pretty confident that Lord Flashheart would be right at home in Peter III’s court.

I’d also add Jojo Rabbit even though it’s emotionally devastating at times. However, Taika Waititi’s mad sense of humor and appreciation for dark comedy are on par with the tone of The Great.

What are you watching to stay wryly amused, darkly entertained, or otherwise occupied?

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Diabolique, or: A Lesson on Keeping up with Backyard Pool Maintenance

We had such good intentions with Mental May to examine mental health in film all month; however, it took just one French period drama to fully embrace all of the Continental fashions, schemes, and casual tobacco use instead. Once again, this week’s film doesn’t exactly connect to our monthly theme unless serving as inspiration for Hitchcock’s Psycho counts (okay, that totally doesn’t count). However, I think you may be persuaded to overlook the continued neglect of our theme based on the intensity of the suspense here, the twists and turns, and healthy dose of moral ambiguity.

The Film:


The Premise:

A murder plot goes awry after the wife and mistress of a shady headmaster team up to stage his death as an accident.

The Ramble:

As far as boarding schools go, the one Michel Delassalle runs isn’t one of your posher options. In fact, it tends more to the 19th-century, Jane Eyre type of school in which pupils are served spoiled food to cut corners and given rather draconian punishments for minor offenses. Though his wife Christina holds the purse strings, her unspecified heart condition means she has to take it easy, and Michel is more or less free to be an unpleasant asshole all of his waking hours.

A man wearing a suit holds the arms of a woman in a robe.

Determined to spread his misery around, Michel is openly having an affair with teacher Nicole Horner. Rather than resent each other, though, the two women seem to share a bond over how terrible and inescapable is sleazy Michel.

After a late night fight in which Michel gives Nicole a black eye, she’s decided enough is enough. Secretly showing Christina some poison stashed away at the school, Nicole suggests the timing has never been better. With the school breaking for a 3-day holiday, the two women can carry off a rather convoluted plan that basically boils down to poisoning Michel and dumping his body in the school’s pool.

A blonde woman wearing sunglasses walks slightly behind another woman, holding, her arm and shoulder to provide support.

Leaving early in the morning, Christina accompanies Nicole to her home in western France. Nicole rents out the upper level to a married couple who are obviously there to create extra moments of suspense, but I’m not mad about it. That night, Christina calls Michel to demand a divorce, which brings him out to confront her immediately.

Horrible people of the world, here’s your last plea to be just a little less awful: when serving Michel poisoned wine, Christina hesitates just a bit, spilling the glass down his shirt. But, of course, rather than being understanding, Michel flies off the handle, reaffirming his wife’s conviction that he’s absolutely got to go. After the poison takes effect, Nicole holds down Michel in a full tub, placing a heavy bronze statue on his chest for good measure.

A woman smoking a cigarette holds a large bronze statue of a lion, while another woman stands in front of a large wicker case.

After a suspenseful trip back to the school, Nicole and Christina wait for someone to discover the body in the pool. After several days pass and no body materializes underneath the layer of leaves and grime floating on the water’s surface, Nicole sets up a potentially gruesome way for one of the pupils to find the headmaster. However, nothing shows up–even when the pool is drained completely. Other eerie happenings go down when one of Michel’s suits is delivered to the school by a man matching his description, and a boy says the headmaster has punished him for misbehaving.

When a body is found in the Seine, Christina is almost relieved. However, when she goes to identify the body, it turns out it isn’t Michel after all. Noticing her distress, a retired police detective offers to help Christina track down her husband. Oh shit.

In the back of a taxi, a man in a long coat speaks to a woman who has her hand pressed to her eyes.

More of an anxious wreck than ever before, Christina confesses to Nicole that she’d rather this all end so she could face whatever is coming. In a shocking twist, the detective announces he has found Christina’s husband–what can that possibly mean?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

To honor the warning that accompanies the end of this film, I will not spoil this for my friends (even though I’ve got to question the validity of a 65-year-old spoiler warning). I will say that this film is ridiculously suspenseful at times, and the buildup to our dramatic twist is quite satisfying. However, possibly because of the years I’ve spent watching Hitchcock (and soap operas), the twist is perhaps not quite as much of a surprise as intended. I think most fans of film will immediately latch on to several offhand remarks and have a pretty good idea of how things will end up.

That’s not to say the film lacks tension or quite horrific moments. I was genuinely shocked when Nicole sent one of the schoolchildren diving into a pool with a dead body in it. There are also some really disturbing shots of both Michel’s body and the liquids seeping from it. Even in black and white, this is vile.

It also makes me shudder that Christina considers divorce a sin, and that the terror and shame surrounding it are (in her mind) somehow worse than murder. There can certainly still be some (or even a great deal) of shame surrounding divorce, but it does seem to be more accepted today than ever before. I mean, especially if the alternative is murder? Though the fashions and casual cigarette-smoking while wearing sunglasses work aesthetically, I am once again pleased not to live during an earlier time in history.

In conclusion, this is creepy and atmospheric AF, but I was hoping for a little more fraternité between our leading ladies.

Would my blog wife uncork a nice bottle of wine with this one or serve it a bit of arsenic on the side? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or: Paint Me Like One of Your French Girls

If there’s any lesson I hope you learn from this blog, it’s that I am always on board for a period drama. Although our theme on the Blog Collab this month is mental health, we’re rolling along with a questionably related French lesbian period drama. Not going to lie–I just really wanted to watch this film regardless of theme since I missed it in theaters.

The Film:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The Premise:

After being commissioned to secretly paint a wedding portrait of a young woman, artist Marianne finds herself conflicted when she develops romantic feelings for her subject.

The Ramble:

*Spoilers follow*

Marianne is a drawing teacher in late 1700s France, remaining aloof as she pushes her students to do their best. It’s clear there are feelings bubbling beneath her cool exterior when she spots one of her paintings on display in the classroom. This particular painting, the titular Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was painted a long time ago yet maintains a powerful pull on Marianne. So let’s journey back a long time ago, shall we?

After arriving on a stunningly gorgeous island off the coast of France, art supplies in tow, it’s clear Marianne has her work cut out for her with a new portrait commission. Not only is the large estate rather empty and ominous in all of the best ways we’d expect from a Gothic-tinged period drama, but the subject of her portrait, Héloïse, will likely be less than cooperative.

On a windswept beach, a blonde woman looks seriously at a dark-haired woman.

After smoking a pipe in the nude (for real), Marianne gets her night cheese on, gathering all of the gossip she can from maid Sophie. As it turns out, Héloïse has only recently returned home after spending much of her life in a convent. After the unexpected death of her sister, Héloïse will inherit her life plan, marrying the Milanese gentleman intended for her sister. Sophie reveals that Héloïse’s sister did not die by accident–rather, her death was a suicide.

A naked woman sits on the floor in front of the fire in a dimly lit room, lighting a pipe.

Now that Héloïse will marry, her mother has commissioned a wedding portrait to mark the occasion. However, Héloïse destroyed the painting created by the previous artist and absolutely refuses to sit for another portrait. As a result, Marianne will have to be sneaky, posing as a walking companion for Héloïse, who has not been allowed to leave the house since her sister’s death. Any portrait work Marianne completes will be done in secret in only a week.

To make things even more complicated, Héloïse is incredibly gorgeous and full of life, so Marianne is almost immediately attracted to her. As a single woman who makes her living as an artist, Marianne enjoys a level of freedom Héloïse can only dream of, introducing her to music she’s never heard before and giving her an idea of what life in Milan might be like. As the two bond, Marianne feels increasingly guilty about her deception. When the portrait is complete, she decides Héloïse will hear the truth from her.

After the portrait is unveiled, Marianne destroys it before Héloïse’s mother can see it, claiming it isn’t good enough. And, while it was perhaps accurate, Marianne does feel it fails to capture the truth of Héloïse’s nature. Though extremely aggravated, Héloïse’s mother agrees that Marianne can repaint the portrait, especially when Héloïse declares that she will cooperate fully by sitting to pose. Héloïse’s mother will be away for five days, after which she expects to see results.

A blonde woman in an elegant green dress faces a dark-haired woman wearing a burnt orange dress.

Left to their own devices, Marianne, Héloïse, and Sophie create their own little utopia free from men and any sort of authority figures. They cook together, come up with a solution to Sophie’s troubles together, and discuss the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice together. And Marianne and Héloïse spend a lot of time casting intense looks at each other. We get a glimpse at the inspiration for the titular portrait of a lady on fire. However, in true Gothic fashion, Marianne is haunted by a ghostly vision of Héloïse in a wedding dress.

A woman stands in a clearing of a field at night, the bottom of her dress on fire.

What will happen when the portrait is complete and Héloïse’s mother returns home?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

*Swoon.* This film is absolutely stunning from just about every angle. First of all, the cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the incredible scenery, costumes, and sets. It’s impossible not to feel instantly transported right into the story as it unfolds so delicately and deliberately.

It’s no secret that I love a period drama, and this one is so lovely. The lingering looks, the graceful (if extremely uncomfortable) fashions, the eerie visions late at night! All of this plus a lesbian romance, feminist themes, and commentary about class status, and I’m in love even though this film broke my heart.

I adore how real the characters feel, and what a unique character Marianne is. Though I haven’t given her much attention in my review, Sophie, the maid, is quite incredible too. Despite being part of a class meant to lead a nameless, faceless existence, Sophie is her own person. She is observant and compassionate, while her pregnancy highlights the vulnerability of her position. Just quit, men. Quit it.

As a great period drama should, this film simultaneously makes me want to live in the exact setting while also being so grateful for not living in an earlier time than our own (though it’s a reminder of how far we have to go for women’s and LGBTQ rights). The circumstances for women at the time are pretty bleak, and it’s heartbreaking that the love and freedom Marianne and Héloïse find doesn’t last. But the film manages to celebrate what these characters achieve without pity; it’s miraculous they carved out space for themselves at all, even if it was a tiny amount for a short time. That being said, I dare you to watch this and tell me the ending didn’t destroy you emotionally.

Would my blog wife exchange long, lingering looks with this one or let it all burn down? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Unsane, or: Trapped in a Car(e Ward) With Someone You Don’t Want to Be Trapped in a Ward With

Shark Month is over, but we have a shiny new theme to look forward to: Mental May! The subject of mental health is near and dear to our hearts (and minds) on the Collab, and the timing couldn’t be better. With anxiety, stress, depression, and myriad mental health issues amplified during the pandemic–not to mention its impact on income, productivity, creativity, and employment–it feels right to highlight mental illness in film, particularly those ladies who tend to be dismissed as hysterical women. We’re diving straight into the deep end here with a disturbing look at stalking and the fine line between paranoia and reality.

The Film:


The Premise:

A woman who is involuntarily committed for psychiatric care begins to see a familiar face from her past…or so she believes.

The Ramble:

The memorably named Sawyer Valentini is a data analyst who has no time for your shit, whether you’re client, coworker, or dude she’s on a date with. It’s maybe not a surprise that, after recently moving away from Boston for a job, Sawyer hasn’t precisely connected with anyone.

Feeling alone and afraid as the former target of a stalker, Sawyer seeks help from a psychiatrist. When she mentions suicidal thoughts she’s experienced in the past, Sawyer unknowingly sets off a nightmarish chain of events. Led to a locked room, her clothes and belongings confiscated, Sawyer is involuntarily committed to psychiatric care for 24 hours (one particular staff member giving off serious Nurse Ratched vibes included).

A woman in business clothes looks skeptically at a male nurse standing in an exam room.

As it turns out, the standard forms for the shady fucking hospital contain an agreement for voluntary institutionalization if there is concern for the patient or others. Enraged, Sawyer uses her one phone call to contact the police…who (shockingly) aren’t the most helpful.

She makes absolutely zero friends by antagonizing (admittedly rather hostile) patient Violet, calling everyone else mental, and punching a patient named Daniel. When hospital staff arrive to intervene, Sawyer believes she recognizes one of the staff members and assaults him too. Because of this behavior, a psychiatrist determines Sawyer must stay in the hospital for an additional week.

Meanwhile, recovering addict Nate tries to help out the struggling Sawyer. He explains how damn sketchy the psych hospital is, notorious for admitting patients who don’t need the treatment but whose insurance will pay for care. Since the hospital is covered legally by the paperwork patients are required to sign, there’s not much for Sawyer to do besides keep her head down and wait for the time to pass.

A woman curls up on a cot, a man sitting next to her.

Of course, Sawyer ignores this advice and picks a fight with everyone almost immediately. To give her some credit, Sawyer does see the staff member she recognized earlier and realizes he actually is the man she suspected, former stalker David Strine. As no one believes her, Sawyer demands to borrow Nate’s secret phone, a major rule violation at the hospital. Using the phone to call her mother, Sawyer believes it will be only a matter of hours before she’s released.

In a dimly lit hallway, a woman stares coldly at a bearded man in scrubs. She is waiting in a line to receive medication.

Nice way to end things? Perhaps. But there’s still half of the movie left, so clearly things aren’t going to wrap up so neatly. Sawyer’s mom is allowed a brief visit, and, armed with the truth about her daughter’s stalker and major righteous indignation, gets the law involved. However, it’s not long before she gets a visitor at the hotel claiming to be a repairman for the A/C unit in her room. This visitor will look very familiar to the audience, who may or may not scream at her to not open the door, for the love of god.

Back in the hospital, Strine nearly gives Sawyer an overdose. As she recovers, she tells the whole horrifying story of her stalker’s obsession to Nate. Included is the really disturbing advice of a detective to essentially live in fear forever. Though the moral support from Nate is appreciated by Sawyer, Strine gets transparently jealous of their special bond. This cannot end well.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Spoilers follow

*Shudder.* The suspense is real here, and the absolute unending nightmare Sawyer experiences as the victim of a stalker feels authentic. Both the idea of being stalked and involuntarily committed are horrendous, and the paranoid feeling of being trapped comes across. Strine is so creepy, playing his role so effectively that it’s Sawyer who ends up questioning her sanity. The ending is truly chilling.

I can’t help but admire Sawyer’s survival skills and toughness when wrongfully committed. Even though it’s her unwillingness to lie low that extends her stay at the hospital, it’s also this trait that ends up saving her skin. I simultaneously cheered and cringed at a certain point in the film when Sawyer confronts Strine, asking him bluntly who rejected him and made him this way.

That being said, Sawyer isn’t incredibly compassionate. It’s really frustrating to watch her have so little patience for people with serious mental illness, and especially for Nate, who spends 85% of his screen time trying to help Sawyer. There’s some discomfort in seeing a white woman constantly rebuff a black man’s sincere attempts to help, especially when he ends up dying at the hands of her stalker. However, the other deaths feel unpleasantly like a sacrifice to Sawyer too, dying so that she may live. And it’s really difficult not to come across as victim blaming to some extent, particularly as there’s one death that it does feel like Sawyer contributes to (yet doesn’t seem too bothered about).

Is this film melodramatic? Extremely. But it works because underneath it is the very raw, instinctive fear of being watched, being trapped, and being doubted.

Would my blog wife let this one borrow her cell phone or immediately go after it with an improvised shiv? Read her review here to find out!